The House of Commons voted unanimously to remove the “patriarchal” requirement for federal approval for amendments to the nation’s constitution.
An amendment to the self-government agreement between the Shíshálh Nation and Canada passed unanimously in the House of Commons on June 22, slipping just before the House adjourned for the summer.
But behind that moment – that vote – were years of work.
The first chord
Thirty-six years ago, the Shíshálh Nation was the first First Nation to sign a self-government agreement with Canada. Several autonomy agreements would come after this, each learning from the last, but that of shíshálh was the first. Many of the clauses of this agreement were archaic, copied and pasted from Indian Act and the Constitution, Warren Paull told the nation shíshálh hiwus (chief) coastal journalist, and needed modernization.
The new legislation clarifies that the nation can change its own constitution without federal government oversight or approval – which is included in subsequent self-government agreements.
“It gives the nation much greater authority over things that only concern the nation,” Patrick Weiler, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea, told Sky Country.
Until last month, legislative changes had to go not only through a minister, but also through the Governor in Council, for approval. “It was not only a very cumbersome and time-consuming process, but it’s also paternalistic, and arguably insulting to have to ask for this approval,” Weiler said.
The legislation also establishes, and this is essential, a cadastre separate from the Indian Act Reserve Land Registry. “We have been very good at acquiring land but wanted to add it to our current land holdings under 91 (24) [of the Constitution Act, 1867]”, Paull said. “We can sell it, and it will become provincial land again, but while we own it, it becomes a 91(24) addition to the land reserves.”
The legislative amendment also confirms that the nation has the power to legislate over social and welfare services, including child and family services.
Weiler also says that this updated legislation now means the Shíshálh language can be used in governance.
The recent history of this agreement for Paull dates back to the historic Reconciliation Baseline Agreement signed between the nation and the province in 2018, which covered land use planning processes, shíshálh land resource consultation and more. Again.
“If you want to have a conversation with the province and sign a groundbreaking agreement, there are certain things like land transfers that require federal approval and commitment,” Paull said. “So we knew we had to get there.”
The nation spoke with then-Attorney General Jodi Wilson Raybould and “pretty much everyone under the sun on this end of the world,” Paull said.
People from Ottawa and Victoria were there. “It’s one of those really good news things that everybody wanted to get engaged to. It’s not often that you have all the parties in the provincial and federal government wanting to work with you on these things,” Paull said. .
Even at that, the amendment took years.
This latest round of negotiations began in 2020. The amendment went to a referendum for nation members last October, with more than 80 percent in favor, Paull said. But he still had to go through Ottawa.
The unanimity with which legislation passed in the House of Commons is rare, Weiler said.
They first introduced Bill S-10 in the Senate, which it passed in one day, a week before the summer recess. It took a coordinated effort between Weiler, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary, working through concerns and questions from other parties and caucuses (including a conversation in French between Weiler and the Bloc Quebec) – to pass the bill. It wasn’t until the early morning of June 22 that things clicked. The law was passed this afternoon. Had the legislation not passed unanimously, it would have been sent to committees, debates and three more readings.
“It’s a very significant change,” Weiler said. “And that’s cause for celebration.”
“It took a lot of effort, a lot of political will,” Paull said. He paid tribute to Marc Miller, Weiler, MP Nicholas Simons and former ministers and politicians who came to the table in support.
However, this is not the end of the negotiations.
After the founding agreement was finalized, negotiations between the nation and Canada were divided into three sections.
The first section was the electoral cycle. Prior to 2019, only members of the nation who lived in shíshálh territory could vote or stand for election. Since 2019, non-resident members can also vote and stand for election.
The second clause is this recent amendment.
The third component deals with the reconciliation table and negotiation on land, tax, natural resource management and wildlife issues.
They still have to sit on those issues, but are preparing for it, Paull said.
For people who live and breathe this stuff, this amendment is major, Paull said. “For the others, the members say it was about time. Long overdue.
With this possibility of amending the constitution, Paull says there are plenty of community members who want to get into this discussion soon – it’s a matter of deciding what to do first.
“All these conversations are happening now.
“And the community is going to have to be consulted on all of this. Because it is their constitution.
“Now we have to have a tough conversation about what’s next,” Paull said. “Because now we want to expand our influence outside of our traditional postage stamp lands and out into the wider community by becoming a working model of governance. So that requires a lot of discussion.
“Now is a great time to be a member of the shíshálh nation,” Paull said. “I think we’re going to lead the way with the rest of Canada and show Canada how it’s done.